Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a thoughtful book that strips away the facade of suburban living with a few parallel stories about the lengths mothers will go to for their children. 

Set in Shaker Heights, Cleveland, this book primarily follows two families: The Richardsons, quintessential upper middle class, with their big house, many cars and four upstanding children, and the Warrens, a mother and daughter duo renting a duplex in the same neighborhood from the Richardsons. Very quickly, the lives of the two families intertwine, as curiosities about the renters grow, particularly the mother, Mia, who works odd jobs only to fund her kooky art projects. Her daughter, Pearl, is around the same age of the Richardson children, Lexie, Trip, Moodie and Izzy, and she begins to regularly spend her summer, evenings and weekends at their house. 

Amongst the children, we see the typical teenage stuff go down. First sexual encounters, unrequited love, popularity games and rebellion of the status quo. This kept the pace going and made the read relatable and enjoyable, but it was the parents' stories that most captivated me.

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.
— Celeste Ng, Little Fires Eveywhere

The leads here are Mrs. Richardson and Mia. Mrs. Richardson is a model member of the community. Her family has lived in Shaker Heights for three generations. She left for University but returned with her husband and became a writer for the local newspaper. Her children are attractive, educated and primed for a similar life, except for her youngest daughter, Izzy, who finds herself on the outside looking in at her 'perfect' family and the gaps they ignore. Mrs. Richardson sees herself in her youngest daughter, but never pursued growing that uprising within herself, and, for that reason, reacts poorly to her daughter's teen angst. 

Mia, on the other hand, is everything she is not. Independent, completely outside the standard paradigm of a Suburban mother. She cares little for indicators of status or the world as it is typically known or seen. Her art is very much about disrupting this, and presenting things anew. An example of this is a series of work she did unstitching stuffed animals, turning them inside out, and restitching them. She has some fame but flees from the limelight a showing in New York may provide. She is settled in herself but somewhat uprooted, and, ultimately, it is this question of her restlessness that journalist Mrs. Richardson seeks to reveal. 

The catalyst for this pursuit of Mia's past is when Mrs. Richardson and Mia disagree on a custody hearing around the adopted daughter of a high school friend of Mrs. Richardson. The infant girl was found at a fire station and given to a loving set of parents, who had been trying for over a decade to have a child or adopt one of their own. Meanwhile, Mia, through her odd jobs, learns who the real mother is, and comes to know that the mother has been searching for her daughter for some months, regretful of her decision to give her baby to the State for surer care at the time. 

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.
— Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

This disagreement lights a fire throughout all of Shaker Heights, dividing the families in multiple directions. What is left once things start to burn? Little Fires Everywhere shows us a world where things are not as placid as they seem, and it was one in which I was happy to know through reading.